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Should video games replace books in the classroom?

How many video games do you think it would take to fill an entire year's educational curriculum? This is just one of the questions that would have to be addressed if video games superseded books as the learning medium of choice. Check out this news story: "More video games, fewer books at schools?

According to the article, "Of all of the proposals aimed at improving America's failing schools, there's one idea kids will really like: More video games and fewer books. At least a number of educators hope so, arguing that children would get more excited about school and that video games can present real-life problems to solve."

Indiana University associate professor Sasha Barab says, "I believe in digital media literacy. If we don't make changes in the way we educate our children, they will be left behind in world markets. Right now, I'm not that optimistic about where schools are headed."

Barab is helping develop video games that both teach and entertain. "In one game designed by Barab, the player assumes the role of an investigator seeking to find out why fish are dying in a virtual park. Various theories are offered such as excessive logging or farm fertilizers, and the players share data about water quality and compare hypotheses. If they recommend kicking out the loggers, the park may go bankrupt, giving students a real-world dilemma."  

I'm sure that there are quite a few people (parents) and organizations (book publishers) that pooh-pooh the idea of putting video games in the classroom. However, there are some people who take a middle-of-the-road stance, like Dr. Joshua Freedman, a neuropsychiatrist at the University of California. Freedman believes that video games are interactive and can help with spatial concepts, "but there's still a question about the value to the extent that most of the world is not a video game. They're not getting problems in real world situation."  

According to Freedman, "Video games engage children with continuous action, a concept known as 'enthrallment,' that raises the threshold for engagement. It's the equivalent of giving kids a lot of sweets and then wondering why they don't want to eat regular food."

And while studies have shown that video-game playing corresponds to an increase of ADD and aggressive behavior in kids, Freedman says that cause and effect are difficult to prove. "I wouldn't say that using more games in education shouldn't be done, I'm just saying that it should be done with our eyes open."

Do I think that video games belong in the classroom? To be honest, I have mixed feelings about this issue. From a parent's perspective - a parent of a child who absolutely LOVES gaming - I think that video games may possibly be the secret sauce to get some kids (mine included) to care about topics in school that they don't find very interesting. However, I also believe that even the best things (video games in this case) should be consumed in moderation.  

Where do you stand on this issue? Should video games replace books in the classroom? Will a combination of video games and books get kids the most excited about learning? Or is it best to leave video games at the arcade and home?


Sonja Thompson has worked for TechRepublic since October of 1999. She is currently a Senior Editor and the host of the several blogs.

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